The Playboy Interview With Eddie Murphy
A candid conversation with the comedian and box-office draw on rumors, race and his agenda
“Open the gate.”
Eddie Murphy, dressed in a typical at-home outfit of spandex bicycle pants, athletic jersey and cap, has just strolled down his number-nine-shaped asphalt driveway to the property’s edge. A guard in the security kiosk nods uncertainly.
“Hey, open the gate,” says Murphy again, signaling with an upraised hand.
The wrought-iron electronic portals to Bubble Hill, his $3,500,000 colonial brick minimansion in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, part sluggishly and Murphy slides through. “This is a pretty middle-class neighborhood,” he explains casually, turning left and wandering down the street toward nowhere in particular. It’s a quiet neighborhood, with Bubble Hill the stateliest property around. “I think they probably freaked out and thought things were going to get wild when I showed up in my leather pants,” he says, chuckling. “But I’m a good neighbor. We’re not loud; we keep to ourselves.”
Suddenly, Murphy stops and gazes toward the house, across an acre and a half of plush, sweeping lawn, towering pines and cicadas singing in the lingering dusk.
“You know what’s interesting?” he says. “I’ve lived here four years, and this is the first time I’ve walked out of my yard.”
The admission does not seem so surprising. Indeed, it adds credence to the current rumors: Eddie Murphy thinks he’s Elvis; Bubble Hill is his Graceland; Murphy holes himself up with his “guys” and is more and more a prisoner of his own success. Sort of like Elvis in the slow lane, according to one writer.
Interesting as speculation, but is it really the case? Or does Murphy simply believe that a little mystique goes a long way? He was once readily available to the press, but his accessibility has diminished as his fame, fortune and notoriety have risen. More and more, he has limited himself to occasional jousts with an interviewer and superficial promotional activity, while around him swirl reports of wild times at Bubble Hill, self-indulgence on movie sets and lawsuits from former lovers. So the questions simmer: Who is Eddie Murphy, and what’s going on?
On the surface, Murphy is a very middle-class black kid from Brooklyn. Born April 3, 1961, he had a dream of being in show business that finally took shape the night he stepped on stage, at 15, to tell jokes at the Roosevelt Youth Center on Long Island. Soon he was refining his comedic talent at local bars and in the Roosevelt High School auditorium. After graduation, he walked into New York’s Comic Strip, impressed the owners so much they became his managers and, at 19, was chosen for the all-new cast for Saturday Night Live’s 1980—1981 season. He thrived there for four years and, with such characters as Tyrone, the jailhouse poet, huckster Velvet Jones, Gumby, Little Richard Simmons, Buckwheat and Mr. Robinson, Mr. Rogers’ ghetto alter ego, became the show’s undisputed star.
In 1982, Murphy stepped up to the big screen and a promise of stardom with his first movie, 48 HRS. In just about that short a time, he became a superstar. World-wide, more than a billion dollars of box-office hits followed: Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, The Golden Child, Beverly Hills Cop II and Coming to America. Also, two comedy albums, Eddie Murphy and Eddie Murphy: Comedian. And an HBO special, Delirious. And the highest-grossing concert film ever, Raw. And two music albums, How Could It Be and So Happy. And the formation of Eddie Murphy Productions. Few in Hollywood have ever achieved domination so quickly and completely.
There has also been trouble: a 1987 paternity suit. A 1989 sexual-harassment suit, pending resolution, by an actress fired from Harlem Nights. A lawsuit from his former manager, claiming a percentage of Murphy’s earnings, that was settled out of court. A raft of plagiarism accusations over who actually conceived the story for Coming to America, which was credited to Murphy. And lately, charges from some in the black community—such as director Spike Lee—that with all his clout, Murphy is not doing enough to help his people. This, in addition to the guff he has taken for the misogynist humor in Raw; for flagrant gay baiting on the stage; for starring in films that lately are, according to one critic, “soulless, self-serving junk.”
Good reasons to stay indoors? If so, there’s plenty at Bubble Hill to keep Murphy occupied. For starters, the compound features a glass-housed pool and attached cabana large enough to accommodate a single-family home; a state-of-the-art recording studio one flight below the cabana, accessible by elevator; a basement screening room/minidisco/game room, boasting high-gloss laminated-wood decor and 15 TV monitors, stacked two and three high, inset into corner walls; and a gym, which doubled as an editing room for Harlem Nights. Then there’s the house itself: spacious, tastefully designed, with marble floors here, fine woods there, a modern Betty Crocker kitchen, formal dining and living rooms, library and the ever-present Murphy pals/cronies/employees. When Murphy does leave the premises—for a meal, a movie, work, whatever—it’s in a black Rolls, or a black Testarossa, or one of the many cars parked on the basketball court and usually in the company of his “boys,” who bracket Murphy’s vehicle in a motorcade of Mercedeses. On rare occasions, he may move about in the company of a journalist—which was the case with Playboy Contributing Editor David Rensin, who paid Murphy an extended visit at Bubble Hill. Rensin’s report:
“On my first night at Bubble Hill, I waited for Eddie in his poolhouse. When he finally joined me, I was turning a ping-pong paddle in my hand. ‘You play?’ he asked, picking one up. ‘I haven’t played for seven months, but don’t fuck with me,’ he cautioned. The game was tough; Eddie felt no need to ingratiate himself to an interviewer and smashed away, putting nasty English on the ball at every opportunity. I lost, 21–12. I wish I could say it was good manners, but it wasn’t.
“However, the game seemed to put him in an excellent humor, leading to the impromptu tour outside the gate.
“The next night’s talk took place in Eddie’s spacious office. A single lamp cast a confidential glow over us and shadows on a mock Atlas statuette of Eddie carrying a Paramount Pictures globe on his shoulders. To get comfortable, he punched the speakerphone and ordered a box of Bazooka bubble gum. It arrived instantly. For the next two hours, we wadded chewed pieces into old wrappers and set the discards on the desktop. There was no trash can. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘Someone will pick it up.’
“Afterward, we played some more ping-pong. I criticized his spins. He called me a faggot. I called him a pussy. He blew the point. He banged the table with his paddle. He screamed. No good. Pretty soon, he was on the losing end, 21–9. I’d say it was good manners, but it wasn’t.
“A third, marathon session the following week ended our talks. That night, I had dinner at Bubble Hill, with Eddie and his boys. Among the dinner topics was the story of a woman who, some years before, had on separate occasions declined to sleep with Eddie and one of his superstar friends. Eddie didn’t seem to mind having been turned down. He was just confused. ‘She slept on a futon,’ he explained. ‘You should have seen her apartment. She let a hundred million dollars of dick get away and she’s sleeping on the floor.’
“Lest Eddie be accused of purely prosaic interests, he did reveal a spiritual side: He crosses himself before all meals and has a superstition about the number nine. ‘Nine is God’s number,’ he said, adding, ‘I was born at seven pounds, two ounces. My first gig was on July ninth. My L.A. address is twenty-seven twenty-seven.’ And the kicker: ‘My driveway is shaped like a nine.’
“Superstar interview subjects such as Eddie have been known to add spin to their answers in an attempt to sound substantive, to protect themselves. At first, I thought that Eddie’s unbridled candor was a kind of inexperience; he hasn’t given many long interviews, certainly none this long. But I soon realized that, while sincere, Eddie Murphy is nevertheless always intensely conscious of what he believes keeps the public interested in him. “Since much of Eddie’s press continues to draw parallels between him and Presley, it seemed the right subject with which to begin.”
Because of your phenomenal success, elusiveness toward the press and ever-present entourage, among other things, you’ve been accused of leading an Elvis-like existence. The media have even compared Bubble Hill to Graceland. Is it true that you’ve gone totally Elvis?
That’s bullshit. I don’t do drugs; I don’t eat peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches; I don’t put foil on my windows and sleep for three days. They say that just because I’m a big Elvis Presley fan. Besides [smiles], Bubble Hill is much nicer than Graceland. Elvis wasn’t exactly an arbiter of great taste. My mother decorated this house.
So we can discount the stories by writers who’ve been unable to get through to you, saying you’ve become an Elvis to your Colonel Parker—like manager, Bob Wachs?
That’s bullshit, too. My managers work for me, and they do what I tell them to do. There’s no one controlling me. [laughs] Come on. If you want reality and you can’t get to somebody, you make it up?
But you are fond of Elvis. Is he your role model?
I’m fascinated with Elvis’ strong presence, more than anything. Otherwise, he’s not exactly a great role model. His music after the Fifties kind of sucked, and he did these horrible movies. But he was still Elvis.
What do you mean by presence?
There was something about him that made you have to look at him, even if you didn’t give a fuck about him. I guess that special shit is what makes anybody famous—and he had more of it than anybody. It’s like when you watch Michael Jackson dance: Every move is deliberate. Or the way Prince dresses: He looks so comfortable that he can get away with it and make it look cool. If anybody else put on pumps, he’d look silly. I’m just amazed by him. [suddenly stands, stretches] Let’s go on upstairs.
[Murphy leads the way through a wood-paneled den, featuring a pool table covered in red felt, into the marble-floored hall, up the stairs and through a door on the second floor. The carpet is French vanilla and the walls (one mirrored) are decorated with framed Elvis memorabilia. Lots of it. Murphy sits behind a large glass desk.]
So this is the Elvis room. They don’t allow anyone upstairs in Graceland.
Elvis keeps his privacy even in death?
Yes. By the way, do you think Elvis is really dead?
Oh, yeah, as a fucking doornail. [looks around] There’s more, but this is all the stuff that’s framed. But I’ve got no pictures of him looking bad, like when he got fat. That wasn’t a cool Elvis.
You must not have liked the Albert Goldman book, then.
Fuck, no. But Elvis is dead and he can’t defend himself, so you can say a lot of shit that will make people read the book. I read it and I wondered, too, Oh, shit! Do you think he did that? Look, I’m just a fan, man. Why does anybody like Elvis? This is just surface stuff for me. People think it goes deeper. It doesn’t. Everybody has somebody he likes. I still have a lot of fan in me.
Do you also have an emotional connection to Elvis?
Emotional connection? Like, if somebody took all my Elvis pictures, would I start crying? No.
Maybe you sit around by yourself and watch Elvis videos or movies?
Yeah, sometimes. I watch This Is Elvis a lot, and sometimes I’ll take—this is gonna really make me sound like a lunatic—an Elvis video and make it play on all the television sets in the house, so that everywhere you walk, there’s Elvis playing.
Because Elvis is cool! [laughs]
Why is this funny to you?
All of it’s funny. One of the fucked-up parts about being in the public eye is that everything I do becomes a big deal. Everything I do. I went to a restaurant one night and it was, like, “Who was the mystery girl with Eddie at the restaurant?” Who gives a fuck who the girl was at dinner? That kind of shit starts to get ya after a while. Who cares?
Isn’t it simply based on the mythmaking that goes along with being a superstar?
No. I just get reamed by the press. The press builds you up and tears you down. I’m in the tear-down stage right now. For instance, I think the press wants so bad for me to fail in a picture. The critics were really unfair with Coming to America. Really unfair. I liked that movie. But people harp on the unsuccessful things I do. Things are still written about fucking Golden Child, which made a hundred million dollars, saying it sucked. People still talk about Best Defense. It wasn’t even my movie, but it always gets three or four lines in a story. Most of the people who want to talk with me, I feel, want to get me. But I understand it. That’s the cycle. They can only write so many good articles about you before they’re writing stuff they wrote before. A lot of my reluctance to speak is also rooted in the idea of “What’s to talk about?” For instance, after I do this interview, I won’t do another one for five years. You never know who’s gonna stick it to you.
Maybe it’s because of the odd details you volunteer when you do talk to the press. For instance, you’ve admitted to being a clean freak who takes several showers a day and constantly washes his hands. Why?
Because I always figure somebody might have dug in his nose, or scratched his balls, or just dug in his ass. Then he comes to shake my hand, “Hey, Eddie!” Sometimes you pee and get a little pee on your hands and then it’s, “Hey, Ed!”
But besides that and a few other eccentricities——
I’m a very normal person who just happens to be in show business. ____
I have very normal thoughts. There’s nothing I’ve ever done that I’m ashamed of; there’s nothing that I regret doing. I’m also one of the straightest people I know. I don’t say “Fuck it!” very well. A lot of what I do is for the people who are in my life, and I don’t relax and I don’t sit back and enjoy the things that have happened to me. I’m always thinking about what I’m gonna do next.
Sounds like a lot of stress.
My obligations are always on my mind. People around me go, “Man, just say Fuck it!’” But I can’t. I’m too responsible.
Aren’t you at a level where you could just let the chips fall?
The stakes are too high. I’m always thinking about who I’ve got to please. Now I’m at the stage where I’m trying to please everybody. I’ve stopped being an artist and I’ve started being a businessman; I’ve begun saying, “This won’t work.” But I tell you, there’ll come a time when I won’t give a fuck again.
Do you think you might not have made it this far if you’d put aside your discipline and said “The hell with it”?
I’d probably be here, but I’d have fucked under a tree and done some drugs and had V.D. or something by now. I’d be here, but I wouldn’t be as healthy. [laughs]
Can you remember a moment in your life when you had the opportunity to indulge but turned away?
When I first was on Saturday Night Live. John Belushi and another comedian, whose name I won’t say because he’s alive and I don’t want to fuck his name up, took me to a blues bar. They put blow out on the bar and they said, “C’mon, have a sniff.” And I really admired these guys—I was nineteen or twenty years old—so I was real close to doing it. But I didn’t. I just didn’t. That was the closest I’d ever come to experimenting with drugs. I was in a circle that was supposed to be hip, and the people I was looking up to in that circle were all doing it. I just didn’t do it.
I’m not as hungry as I am ambitious. I don’t have “the eye of the tiger” anymore. Now I just want to do the best movie or sing the best song I can.
Was the nameless comic someone else on Saturday Night Live?
When Belushi died, did you think of that moment?
When Belushi died, I thought, What a waste, basically. Thirty-three years old and dead from some fucking cocaine. It’s stupid, man. All that shit is stupid. People die really young. If I croak in an airplane crash, it’s fate. Nobody can call me stupid. These people who croak from drugs in their thirties and forties, before they’ve even lived, are killing themselves. Belushi was a baby. Elvis Presley, as much as he lived, he was a baby when he died—forty-two years old, man! Stupid! Freddie Prinze. I feel some sympathy, but then the other side of me goes, Jesus Christ, that’s so fucking stupid!
Your attitude on drugs was ahead of its time. And you say you know who you are—which most people don’t. So aren’t you really more than just “normal”?
But I’m still normal. I’m not extraordinary. Don’t I seem like a normal guy? [pauses, then says firmly] I’m a normal guy. [grins] I am. I could play that movie-star, Hollywood-bachelor shithead role if I wanted to. I could have a bevy of beauties around the pool and walk around with my robe on and all that shit. I could do that.
You mean you don’t?
No. I never had that trip. I’ve had parties at my house, but no “Here comes Ed” kind of lifestyle. I’m not saying that way of life is weird or bad, just that that’s extraordinary, and I don’t live it.
That’s your perception of other movie stars’ lives?
I picture them walking around in their robes going, “Oh, hello.” Like Cary Grant.
Are you sure you know what normal is? You’ve said you think guys like Sylvester Stallone and Michael Jackson are normal.
Given their level of popularity and power, they could be a lot stranger than they are. You’d be surprised how normal Stallone and Michael are. People really think Michael is a fucking lunatic, and he’s extremely normal. The only thing abnormal about him is that he doesn’t use profanity. At all. I’m always thinking, Jesus, I would have said “Shit” to get my point across. I would have said “Fuck that!”
What do superstars talk about among themselves?
About anything except music and movies and shit. We talk about stuff that’s happened in our lives. One of the weird things about being friends with an entertainer is that both people are reaching out. But there’s something morbid about it, because you talk about weird shit that’s happened to you. Arsenio [Hall] is the only entertainer I can call up and talk to about anything. Somebody’ll be on TV and we’ll call up and be goofing on the person over the telephone. Anybody else is show business, show business, show business; they’re all nice people, but I guess we have our guards up. You want to know who’s really your friend and who just wants to hang out with you because you’re who you are.
Do you have trouble figuring out who’s a yes man and who isn’t?
The people around me aren’t patting me on the back every minute. Most things I hear are when people tell me about something shitty they heard about me or something fucked up that’s getting ready to come out in the paper. So I have a really low self-image sometimes.
What’s your predominant emotional state?
Controlled. I’m just a very disciplined person. If I feel myself getting too close to something, I know I’ve got to cut it off. If I feel myself getting real sad about something, I avoid that, too. I don’t think it’s unhealthy to experience the real highs and the real lows; I just think one should travel at a safe speed.
You sound like one of your heroes, Mr. Spock.
No, I have emotions, but I have them in check. Do Vulcans actually have them?
Spock is half-human.
So he has to control his emotions, too. [smiles] Yeah, but I laugh—though maybe Spock laughs sometimes. He’ll go into his chambers and say, “Excuse me, brothers, it be that green motherfucker!”
When was the last time you experienced great joy?
When I found out I got Saturday Night Live. I was nineteen. I went, “Yahoo! Yippee!” [pauses] I guess that’s not great joy; I was just happy. Is great joy when you cry and all that shit? Do you make a loud noise? Do you say “Yippee” or “All right” really loud, while clenching your fist? Then I’ve never experienced great joy in my life. I’ve never gone, “Yeah, wooo!” No great joy for me, not yet in this life.
You’ve said you don’t get angry.
I get angry. But I don’t show it. I just leave.
What gets you depressed?
Stupid shit: women and money.
What kind of money worries could you have?
I have to stay on top of it; still got to pay taxes; everybody’s problems become my problems. I have fifty-two people who work for me; whenever somebody has a financial problem, it winds up on my desk. So-and-so’s light bill is fucked up, and the light bill becomes my problem. I figure, I pay him a salary, why do I have to pay his light bill, too?
What’s your net worth? Do you keep track?
Yeah, but it’s personal. I’m still paranoid about that shit. I know how much money I have, give or take a dime.
Forty million dollars? Eighty million dollars?
Get the fuck outta here! I ain’t got no fucking eighty million dollars. Nowhere close. If I had, you think I’d be doing this shit? You think I’d be working?
What would you do?
Jack shit! I’d show up every year and fucking host the United Negro College Fund Telethon, and that would be my fucking time to go out of the house. That’s all I would do.
What about your art?
Eighty million bucks and art goes out the window?
Nah. I’d be doing a lot more music. I’d have a lot of double, triple albums in my basement, unreleased. I’d do a lot of writing, reading, recording and writing music. It’s the going out and performing—acting, being on the set, playing the music—that’s a drag. That’s the work part.
While we’re on the subject, has it been easy gaining acceptance as a singer?
My first love has always been comedy. Music started out as a hobby when I was younger. Right now, because I like doing it, I’m gonna continue. So call it a hobby that has gotten out of hand.
Is singing one way you stay hungry as an artist?
I’m not as hungry as I am ambitious. I don’t have “the eye of the tiger” anymore. Now I just want to do the best movie or sing the best song I can. I don’t put limitations on myself. I dabble with a lot of forms of expression, and that’s good for me as an artist.
Yet your art and its vast popularity have put some limitations on you. You’ve called your existence xenophobic; you have a mistrust of strangers. Would you change that if you could?
I chose it. I painted myself into this corner. It’s real hard to gain trust from a person like me. Everybody in show business who’s successful has his own little clique, his own employees, his little wall around him. Everybody who comes into a star’s world is under heavy scrutiny, is on trial. Even if a person is genuine, it takes so much to get to know the star that most people say, “Fuck this, it ain’t worth it. I didn’t even want to be the motherfucker’s friend and I gotta go through all this bullshit? Fuck him!” So the star winds up by himself.
You’ll never hear that I’m an asshole. You’ll hear that I’m a lunatic.
But did you have any idea you’d wind up behind a brick wall?
I built the wall because I felt that there was supposed to be a wall there. It’s like going to a premiere in a limousine as opposed to going in a jeep. It’s part of that show-business bullshit. You’re supposed to have walls; if I had a chain-link fence, it would look weird. I didn’t anticipate the negative, no. But I accept it.
As you accepted—or anticipated—success?
I think that the one thing everybody who’s successful in this business can tell you is that he knew. I’ve asked that question of everybody famous I’ve ever met, and they all say, “I did.” They believed. They had faith that they were going to attain it. You’ll never hear of a person who got really famous saying, “I never thought this would happen to me. This is a fluke.” People might luck out and get a hit record; they found a nice groove and weren’t prepared for it. But if you’re talking about famous, they all knew it.
Do you mourn the loss of the days when you could just have pals?
You have four or five true friends in a lifetime. My true friends—the guys I hung out with when I was in junior high school and high school—work for me. There’s nobody who’s just around me getting jerk-off money. I can see the job getting done.
Would you rather have your chops busted or your ass kissed by the people around you?
I’d rather have my ass kissed; I think anybody would. But I’m not an idiot; I know if I’m being an asshole. Don’t kiss my ass if I’m being an asshole. Let me know when I did something wrong. However, I’m the most disciplined person around, so it’s very rare that I’m fucking up or being irrational.
Do you expect the same kind of discipline from your people?
No. No. See, I’m a different type of megalomaniac. I’m megalomaniacal about what I do. I know I’ve had a certain level of success as an entertainer, so I have no doubts about that. But as far as being a person goes, I have a lot of shortcomings. I have a lot of insecurities. But I’m a pretty normal person, a very well-rounded, very disciplined person. I’m not an asshole much, personally.
Despite suggestions to the contrary?
[Wide eyes] You’ll never hear that I’m an asshole. You’ll hear that I’m a lunatic. A freak. Or a dope addict, but not an asshole. [smiles]
Don’t you ever just want to be alone?
The only time I’m ever really alone is when I hop into my car and drive off. It’s therapeutic. I drive into the city and cruise around fucked-up neighborhoods.
Seeing what the poor folks are doing? Do you take the Rolls or the Testarossa?
Nah. Something inconspicuous. I drive, I talk to cops, I see shit happen sometimes.
How do the cops react to chatting with you?
Cops are cool. I don’t go to the same places all the time. But if I see something going on, I pull over and talk to the cops. I feel like I’ve got to keep in touch with reality. If I stayed here at Bubble Hill and didn’t read the newspapers and have my people around me, I wouldn’t know what the fuck was going on. That’s why I go out and drive around. I see people on crack. Crack is crazy, man.
You drive through crack neighborhoods?
Yeah. I stop and ask addicts, “What the fuck are you doing?” I used to give them money. I used to say, “You’ve got to get your life together.” I’d lecture them and say, “Get off the street.” But I realize, from what I know about crack now, all those motherfuckers do is smoke crack. So they’ll sit there and listen to a lecture and go, “Yeah, thanks, brother,” and go smoke my fucking money. I realized I was doing more harm than good.
Do you stay in the car or get out?
I get out of my car and talk to people. I’m not worried about anything happening to me, because the idea of me pulling up in a crack neighborhood and talking to somebody is, well.… The crackhead usually freaks because it’s Eddie Murphy. So even if he thinks about doing a crime, everything is happening too quick. It’s a Twilight Zone kind of thing. I’ve sat crackheads down in my car and talked to them: “What’s wrong with you?” I’ve talked about their families and how they don’t want to do drugs. I’ve seen people crying and all that kind of shit.
I figured I’d give [Landis] a shot because his career was fucked. But he wound up fucking me.
Crying in your car?
Yeah, I’ve had crack-addict tears in my car. I hope I can inspire them to do something.
Did any of them ever reach you afterward, by mail, and——
Say “I’m cracked up”? Crackheads don’t write letters. They say, “I’m gonna smoke this stamp money.”
No, did anyone ever let you know that your talking with him made a difference? Changed his life?
No one’s ever contacted me. But turning their lives around is something they have to do themselves. [smiles] Now I’m gonna have crackheads looking for me and shit. If they read this interview, crackheads are gonna be on the corners going, “Eddie might drive through, give us some of that advice shit. We bust his ass and take his watch.”
You keep saying you’re normal. What do you think accounts for the public’s fascination with you?
I don’t think people are fascinated with me. I’m just a funny guy, and people enjoy my movies. I make them laugh. And that’s as far as it goes. This is the deal: A guy wants to see a movie with his girlfriend. He’ll say, “Let’s go see this horror movie.” And the girl will go, “No, let’s go see a Tom Cruise movie,” and the boyfriend doesn’t want to see that because Cruise is too handsome. So they settle on my movie. The girls go to see Cruise by themselves; the guys see the horror movies by themselves; but you go to my movie on a date. I’m not a threat; I make you laugh.
Your latest movie, Harlem Nights, really is your movie. Not only do you act in it, you wrote, produced and directed it. To take just one of your hats, why direct it?
I’m stuck in this weird position. Directors have big egos, and really big directors have huge egos. Most directors, when they become stars, don’t want to work with big, big actors. They work with no-name actors or character actors so they can be in control. Also, when it’s time to put a project together and I want to get a big director and get moving fast, these directors aren’t available for three years. Only schleppers are available. Rather than get a half-assed job, I figured I might as well do it myself.
What makes a good director?
You have to have focus. You have to know what you want. You have to have an open mind. Nobody’s right all the time. I’m not a power freak. I’m always very cool.
Would you work with a woman director?
It all depends on what she had directed. And if she was really comfortable with the fact that she was a woman and didn’t have to prove to me that she was in charge. Like Penny Marshall: I’d work with her in two seconds. In one second. In fact, I have to go work with Penny right now. [laughs]
You could have directed Coming to America but didn’t. Why?
I wanted to help out [the director, John] Landis. I figured I’d give this guy a shot because his career was fucked. But he wound up fucking me.
As it turned out, John always resented that I hadn’t gone to his Twilight Zone trial. I never knew that; I thought we were cool. But he’d been harboring it for a year. Every now and then, he would make little remarks, like, “You didn’t help me out; you don’t realize how close I was to going to jail.” I never paid any mind.
Did you think he was guilty?
I don’t want to say who was guilty or who was innocent. [pauses] But if you’re directing a movie and two kids get their heads chopped off at fucking twelve o’clock at night when there ain’t supposed to be kids working, and you said, “Action!” then you have some sort of responsibility. So my principles wouldn’t let me go down there and sit in court. That’s just the way I am. If somebody in my family was guilty of something, I wouldn’t sit there for them in a courtroom and say, “You’ve got my support.” Fuck that. The most it would be is, “Hey, you go work that out. I still love ya; I’m still your friend.”
So you hired Landis out of friendship despite thinking he’d been irresponsible?
Yes. He’d done four fucked-up movies in a row and I knew he’d spent a lot of money on his trial. I went to Paramount and said I wanted to use Landis. But they had reservations: His career was fucked up. But I said, “I’m gonna use Landis.” I liked the guy. I used to always say that the one fun experience I had with a director—and I’ve worked with directors I really liked: Marty Brest, Walter Hill, Tony Scott—was with Landis, because he plays around a lot on the set. I made Paramount hire him.
Was he grateful?
He came in demanding lots of money. Paramount was saying, “Hey, come on, Eddie, we’re getting fucked here,” but I made them pay his money. They bent over backward. But after he got the job, he brought along an attitude. He came in with this “I’m a director” shit. I was thinking, Wait a second, I fucking hired you, and now you’re running around, going, “You have to remember: I’m the boss, I’m the director.” One of his favorite things was to tell me, “When I worked with Michael Jackson, everyone was afraid of Michael, but I’m the only one who would tell Michael, ‘Fuck you.’ And I’m not afraid to tell you, ‘Fuck you.’” And sure enough, he was always telling me, “Fuck you, Eddie. Everybody at Paramount is afraid of you.”
Is everybody afraid of you?
I don’t know. But I still figured, Well, good! Because there’s no way they’re gonna respect me. They can’t respect me. I was twenty-six years old. Imagine me in the office of a fifty-year-old guy in a suit. Naturally, he’d look at me, a kid, talking about “I want to do it this way,” and he’d say, “Yeah, right. Sure, sure.” Then on top of that, I’m this black man making demands. He’d look down his nose at me. So if I don’t have his respect, at least let me have some fear. Let me have something.
But Landis just gave you grief?
It got worse and worse. What first put a bad taste in my mouth about him was when, after he hired [co-star] Shari Headley and all these other people, I said I wanted to take everybody to dinner. I didn’t know anybody. But Landis grabbed Headley and said, “You stay away from Eddie. Don’t go near him, because he’s gonna fuck you and ruin my movie. He just wants your pussy.” I’m thinking, Wait, ooohhh, nooo, that has nothing to do with being a fucking director. He’s a control freak. Just assuming that I was trying to get the pussy is one thing; and even if I was trying to get the pussy, for him to try to stop me from getting it because he was directing the movie.… He’s got a lot of nerve. Plus, it wasn’t even about pussy.
Did you confront him?
I kind of ignored it. But every day, it was a new “I told Michael, ‘Fuck you’” story. Then, one day, I had these two writers who did the screenplay for Coming to America with me. They were writing a TV show called What’s Alan Watching? that my company was producing. They were at our location in New York, and Landis was asking them, “Why are you guys here?” They said, “We’re working on something for Eddie.” And he said [strongly], “The production’s not picking that up.” And they said, “No, we’re working through Eddie’s company. Right now, we’re waiting for the deal to go through.” And Landis said, “So you’re not being paid yet? That company should be paying you! Don’t come to New York unless you’re being paid.” The whole crew was standing around—extras and actors—and Landis started screaming, “Don’t be afraid to ask Eddie Murphy for his money. You go up and ask for your fucking money!” I walked in and he said, “Eddie! Your company is fucking these guys out of their money! Guys, don’t be afraid to go up to Eddie and say, ‘Fuck you!’” He’s screaming about my deal making in front of the cast.
What did you do?
I playfully grabbed him around the throat, put my arm around him and I said to Fruity, one of my guys, “What happens when people put my business in the street?” And Fruity said, “They get fucked up.” I was kind of half joking. Landis reached down to grab my balls, like he also thought it was a joke—and I cut his wind off. He fell down, his face turned red, his eyes watered up like a bitch and he ran off the set. Fuckin’ punk.
Did you go after him?
Nah. He came to my trailer later and made this big speech. His voice was trembling. And it all came out: that he didn’t think I was talented, that the only reason he did Coming to America was for money, that he didn’t respect me since I hadn’t gone to his trial and all this bullshit. All this fucked-up shit. Called me ignorant, an asshole.
How did you take it?
I’m sitting there shattered; I’m thinking, This fucking guy. I bent over fucking backward to get this guy a job. He probably won’t even acknowledge what happened. He didn’t realize that his fucking career was washed up. So I told him, “The next time you fuck around with me, I’m gonna whip your ass.” His Hollywood shit came out then: “What do you mean, ‘whip my ass’? That’s not in our deal.” So I said, “You’re gonna have to give me either some fear or some respect. I want one of them, because this is my shit and you’re working here. If the only way you can fear me is knowing that the next time you fuck up, you’re gonna get your ass whipped, fine.” But Landis was fucked up: “Is that a net or a true-gross ass whipping I’m gonna get? What kind of ass whipping is it?”
Nick Nolte got two million dollars. I got two hundred grand. I thought I was the hottest shit since the fucking spoon.
Would you have whipped his ass?
If he had fucked up again, I would have beat the shit out of him.
Even considering the consequences of a lawsuit and criminal charges?
The thing about an assault charge is that if you’re gonna do it, make it worth it. If it had come to that—me whipping his ass—there wouldn’t have been some headline like “Eddie Murphy Punches John Landis in the Face.” I’d have beat the shit out of him, put him in the fucking hospital, almost killed him. Then, when the headline read “Eddie Being Sued For Assault,” I’d have said [humbly], “Yeah, I did give him a horrible ass whipping; he deserves some sort of compensation, because I did beat the shit out of him.”
Anyway, it worked. He was afraid of me. He’ll probably never admit it, but the motherfucker was on his fucking toes for the rest of the show and didn’t fuck with me for the whole rest of the picture.
When was the last time you actually whipped somebody’s ass?
I haven’t done anything like that in years. But I’d do it in a second, because I don’t get tired. [laughs] That’s my claim to fame. They say Michael Jackson is the Thriller, and Bruce Springsteen is the Boss, and Elvis is the King. I’m the guy who can whip any actor’s ass in Hollywood.
Think you can take on Arnold?
Arnold does weights. He’s an old guy. [smiles] There’s a difference between having muscles and being able to fight. I’m not saying I’m challenging Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’m just saying most big guys aren’t necessarily the best fighters.
Besides, I wouldn’t just punch somebody in the chest. If I fought seriously, I’d go for the throat, the eyes; I’m using chairs and a piece of glass and fucking somebody up. I’m not gonna stand there and get in a fucking boxing position. I’m kicking in the balls. I used to box when I was a kid; I used to take karate; I still work out now. I’m not punk and I think I can whip the average actor’s ass. People in show business are basically soft. You know who else is real quick to fight? Arsenio. He’s the only person I think I wouldn’t fuck with.
Let’s move on. What do you think of your acting?
I don’t think I’m an actor. I’m a matinee idol. Even the term movie star sounds like I think I’m hot shit. Robert De Niro is an actor. Al Pacino is an actor.
Don’t you want to be considered an actor?
I want to do successful movies, that’s all. I want to be entertaining. In the old days, there were people who were a combination of actor and movie star; now it’s either/or. The only person now who I think is both an actor and a movie star is Jack Nicholson.
In Harlem Nights, your character, Quick, is not entirely sympathetic. He even kills a woman. You play him as more subdued than your comic characters. Was that acting?
I can act. Most movie stars can act, but there’s more artistry to being an actor than there is to being a matinee idol. The idol can show up with a good jawline and his charisma. An actor can move you, even though he looks like shit. Tell me or Tom Cruise, “Don’t smile for the whole picture,” then see what happens. That’s a test. Tell me not to raise my eyebrow. I got a couple of tricks I do to make it look like I’m acting.
Yet your comic characters—Axel Foley or Reggie Hammond or Prince Akeem—can be memorable.
But that stuff’s not hard to do, man. Look at Al Pacino in Cruising, The Godfather, Scarface, Dog Day Afternoon and tell me that’s the same man. I’m under an inch of make-up in my latest movie, and you still see there’s some Eddie Murphy.
When will you do a serious role; for instance, Malcolm X?
I wouldn’t star in that story, because it would detract from the seriousness of the piece. People would be sitting around the first hour of it, just trying to buy me. [pauses] I’d produce it, though. I met with Norman Jewison recently about the Malcolm X story. He was going to do a movie adaptation of Alex Haley’s book The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and he talked to me about playing Haley. Warner’s owns Malcolm X’s story. Paramount tried to buy Warner’s, and now Warner’s is saying, “Oh, Eddie, you want to be in Malcolm X? Go suck our dick, Eddie. Fuck you!” So that never happened. But Denzel Washington is gonna play Malcolm X, which is a great choice.
Your next project is a sequel to your debut film, 48 HRS. Why are you going back to the well?
48 HRS. is the most imitated movie of the Eighties. You can draw a line from it to Commando to Lethal Weapon to Red Heat to Running Scared. And none of them was as good as the original. Now we’ve got the original cast, director and producer. We made the one that everybody’s trying to imitate, so we’re trying to go one better. 48 HRS. is also the best picture I’ve ever done, as an actor, but the worst thing we can possibly do is try to recreate it. This time, I see more characterization, not bigger explosions.
But won’t audiences be expecting moments similar to the bravado bar scene where Reggie takes control?
I’ll never get that reaction from an audience again. That was like watching a baby get born. They went, “Oh, this guy’s gonna be doing movies for a while.” It was something special; it was like the birth of a—I hate to say this—movie star. You can get born only once in this business, but you can die over and over again. [laughs] Then you can make comebacks.
Is 48 HRS. your insurance in case Harlem Nights bombs? [Most critics panned it.]
I’m happy about the movie and I’m proud of the way it turned out. It’s not an action-packed kind of picture, and neither was Coming to America. But I wanted to get away from that because [the critics] pigeonhole you for doing the same shit. Hollywood, and Paramount, would love for me to turn Beverly Hills Cop into the Police Academy series, every couple of months, until Beverly Hills Cop X. Americans are creatures of habit: We like to do the same shit all the time. That’s why TV shows are so popular here. People like the idea of meeting somebody every week on a certain day, at a certain time, while sitting in the living room.
But you can do whatever you want.
And that’s what I’m doing. I trust my impulses. Rather than go for the buck, my impulse, after I did Beverly Hills Cop II, was to do something completely different from the shit I’d been doing. Golden Child, Beverly Hills Cop, Beverly Hills Cop II were the same character—Axel Foley—three movies in a row. After a while, people get tired of watching your shit.
How much did you get for 48 HRS.?
Nick Nolte got two million dollars. I got two hundred grand. I signed to do Trading Places before I even saw 48 HRS. on screen. And that wasn’t for a lot of money, either, compared with what Dan Aykroyd got. I got three hundred grand for Trading Places. When I did 48 HRS., I was twenty, twenty-one years old. Two hundred thousand dollars? I thought I was the hottest shit since the fucking spoon. Nick Nolte? Shit, he deserves two million. He was in Rich Man/Poor Man! I didn’t fucking know. Then 48 HRS. made a hundred million dollars worldwide.
And you made a five-picture, fifteen-million-dollar deal with Paramount. Although you’ve renegotiated the deal upwards a couple of times, lately you’ve complained that considering your box-office magnetism, it’s the worst deal in town.
I have a horrible deal at Paramount. Absolutely.
Will you renegotiate? Or will you move the franchise to another studio?
I have three pictures to do with Paramount, and two of them will be done within a year, maybe less: We’re doing the next 48 HRS. in January, and in June, they’re trying to put together another Beverly Hills Cop picture. Coming to America and Harlem Nights were self-indulgent, in terms of the commercial mold studios like, so I figure with these big pictures just out and behind me, I’ll be in a good position. It all boils down to whoever wants to be in business with me the most; that’s where I’m going.
You mean whoever writes the biggest check?
Yeah, it’s business. Whoever’s gonna give me the most lucrative deal, that’s where I’m going. I’m no fucking idiot who’s gonna go, “Oh, no, I’m gonna stay with Paramount and work for less money because I’ve been here since the beginning.” Get the fuck outta here!
How do you imagine life at Warner’s or Disney?
Warner’s has a lot of money, and it’s a powerful company. I have personal relationships with people at Disney, because a lot of them were working at Paramount when I started working there. But the companies are so huge. So take a studio like Columbia that’s all fucked up right now and having bad luck with pictures. It would be more to my advantage to be with a smaller studio. At Disney or Warner’s, I’d be the icing on the cake. But if I went to Columbia, I’d be the fucking cake. [This part of the interview took place just before Sony bought Columbia.] And if nobody wants to give me a really lucrative deal, I’ll just go independent and do my fucking movies myself.
You’ve also had some problems over the authorship of Coming to America. The lawsuits are piling up, including one by syndicated columnist Art Buchwald. Can you comment?
There are so many lawsuits because it’s a public-domain story: The Prince and the Pauper. But that’s just part of the business. At first, I got really pissed off about it, because there are at least six or seven people—people I’ve never met before—claiming they wrote the movie.
Well, we’re not actually expecting you to say, “Yeah, I ripped it off.”
This happens all the time. There will be people claiming they wrote Harlem Nights, too.
Most of the Coming to America litigants say they sent their material to Paramount.
Yeah, to Paramount. “I sent something similar to that to Paramount three years ago, and you sent it back. And now Eddie Murphy comes up with an idea like this.” None of them are saying they sent something to Eddie Murphy. Most of the lawsuits are against Paramount.
I find myself laughing at shit that I’m ashamed of, like fart jokes.
So you’re not even financially involved?
No, not at all.
At one time, you wanted to be in
What was that about?
I pitched a story to Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola and Al Pacino. Everybody loved it, and then Pacino said, “You know something? ‘Everybody loves it’ means it’ll never happen.” My idea was for me and Stallone and Pacino to be in it together. Paramount thought it would be too expensive to do; it would have cost eighty million dollars to get everybody together; so before we could even shoot a roll of film, we’d be forty or fifty million dollars below the line.
How about deferring salaries and taking a percentage, just for the experience of working with the ensemble?
That “just for the experience” shit is for the birds. You get all these people together and the movie flops—and then you’ve got that deferred-payment shit. Always take your money. Always, always.
Yeah, but what’s a million bucks here or there to you?
A million dollars here or there? That’s a lot of fucking money! I haven’t lost sight of that. The average person could work twenty years and not make a million dollars.
When you pay to go to a movie, what do you like to see?
I like a good romantic movie, and I like a good action movie. I liked Rain Man. I liked both Lethal Weapons. I liked Nicholson a lot in Batman. The public ultimately tells you what’s good and what’s bad. You, or a critic, can talk about a film being so fucking brilliant, but if nobody goes to see it, the movie isn’t shit.
Do you think audiences simply want unchallenging entertainment?
No, that’s bullshit. Take a movie like Rain Man, which isn’t your Joe Average film. Are you saying that the same person who would go see Porky’s wouldn’t go see Rain Man because Rain Man is a movie that’s intelligent and emotional and has great acting in it—and it made two hundred million dollars? And that’s just domestic. That stuff about “The American public isn’t sophisticated enough to appreciate this sort of movie” is shit. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think Porky’s is a great movie, but it made a hundred million dollars, so there’s something good about it. I dare anybody to sit and watch that movie and not go, “Hey, some of that was funny.” I find myself laughing at shit that I’m ashamed of, like fart jokes. Or when the guy sticks his dick through the fucking wall in the shower and the big woman grabs it. If you don’t think that’s funny, you’ve got a fuckin’ problem. That’s funny!
You mentioned a possible Beverly Hills Cop III. At one point, you resisted the idea. What’s going to make it a sure thing?
Two years ago, I would have done it for a great big check; now I need a really great script and a good check. You know what I thought would have been the ideal Beverly Hills Cop III? Die Hard. Bruce Willis did a real good job. It’s one of those movies I wish I was in.
Has your pal Stallone given you advice about making sequels?
Only about how much money you could get from the studios. He said, “Don’t let them sell you short.” And it’s true. He makes twenty million dollars just to step in front of the camera. No matter what his movie does, he’s gonna make twenty million. He said, “They dress you up; they put make-up on you; and you go out and they make millions and millions on you and you get a little bit of it. When you get old, they get somebody else to do your job and it’s over. We’re whores.”
You act like someone twenty-eight years old going on fifty.
I feel real old, real old. I look old. If you see me naked, my balls hang down to my knees and there’s gray hair on my balls. That’s when you know you’re not young anymore. There’s no such thing as a young guy with gray hair. The more gray hair, the more sleepy your dick is.
That’s not always true.
Your dick gets bigger as you get older? That’s an old man’s myth. [Old Yiddish voice] “I’m ninety, but you should see my cock. Hey, it’s been growing for ninety years. You tell me how long it is. Why do you think I’m all hunched over? It’s pulling this weight of my balls and cock around all the time. Why do you think I’m in this wheelchair? I can’t walk with this long cock. I’m ninety, for Chrissakes. Why you think my wife has no teeth? They didn’t fall out; I put my cock in there and it blasted her fucking teeth out of her fucking mouth. My cock’s the size of a person.”
Let’s talk about Little Richard.
Hah! Little Richard came to me and said [in Little Richard falsetto], “I want you to play me in my movie. Oooo, you’d be so good!” Then I read the book The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock and there was a lot of homosexuality. So I started thinking, If I’m going to do this movie, I have to really do it—and I don’t know how we’re gonna shoot the dick-in-my-mouth scene. I don’t know how we’re gonna shoot the scene where I’m getting fucked in the ass. I don’t know how we’re gonna have an audience buy it. I can’t shoot that scene unless I do a fadeaway of me falling back onto the bed. I don’t even want to have that scene. That is a scary book. Little Richard talks about how he once slept with a guy with such a big dick that he knows what it feels like when a woman has a baby. He was screaming, “Woooo!” And I read that, thinking, He wants me to do that? You can’t even show that scene afterward. What are you gonna do, have me laying on the bed on my stomach, with a little curl of smoke coming out my ass?
What about the kissing scenes?
I’m not doing those scenes, either. [laughs]
Seriously, would you play a homosexual character in a movie?
Would I play a homosexual? Why? I’m a comedian. [smiles] It would just have to be a movie where I say, “Hey, this is great; I’ve really got to do this.” But I don’t think I could do some movie where I was kissing some guy and shit like that.
Well, when do you accuse the Academy of being racist and be heard—unless you’re doing the nominees for the best picture?
That would be real acting.
I read something about a sequence in An Officer and a Gentleman where they had to eat roaches. I ain’t eating no bug and I ain’t kissing no man. Sorry. If I’m not an actor because of that, so be it. And if you want to go to the movies and see me eat a bug and kiss a man, you have a problem, not me. [tough New York accent] “Yeah, Murphy’s good, but he doesn’t eat roaches in his films.” [as movie reviewer Gene Siskel]: “When’s Eddie gonna eat a beetle? That’s what I want to know.” [smiles] You know, I could kill two birds with one stone and do a movie where I suck Ringo Starr’s dick. Are you happy? I ate a Beatle and sucked a cock at the same time. [laughs and laughs, then in Siskel’s voice] “Two thumbs up…up the ass.”
You got mixed reviews for your remarks at the 1988 Oscar ceremony. You told the Academy that you almost didn’t show because they haven’t recognized black people in motion pictures. Had you planned that outburst?
I didn’t know exactly what I was going to say, so I bounced it off Robin Williams. He said, “I don’t know; it might start some shit.” He told me just to say what I had to say instead of trying to be funny. But I just went, “Fuck it, I’m going for it.” I didn’t want to make everybody cringe. I’m surprised that so many people took offense. Warren Beatty told me it was the wrong time, and I’m thinking, Well, when do you accuse the Academy of being racist and be heard—unless you’re doing the nominees for the best picture? They’re all listening right there. Where am I gonna say it? In Ebony? They don’t read Ebony.
Well, some filmmakers are trying to create some change—Spike Lee, for instance. Yet when his film Do the Right Thing was released last summer, he seemed to be your most vocal critic, suggesting that with all your power, you weren’t doing the right thing.
He’s militant, so the media love it. He realizes he gets a lot of press by attacking established people. I read something where Spike said that blacks who get successful and move away from poor people should be shot, and that goes double for Hollywood Negroes like Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy. And I went, “Whoa! Bill Cosby and his wife just gave twenty million dollars to a black college. They should be shot for moving to a nice neighborhood?” It has nothing to do with, “I’m gonna get away from this black neighborhood.” What would Bill Cosby look like living on fucking Dekalb Avenue in Brooklyn, in an apartment? “I’m gonna stay here because Spike thinks it’s right.” Get the fuck outta here!
That takes care of Cosby. But what have you done? What has your power gained blacks in Hollywood?
Without me, I don’t think the studios would have put out a movie like Hollywood Shuffle, or backed I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, or bought She’s Gotta Have It. Five years ago in Hollywood, all the studios were thinking, We gotta get us a nigger. We gotta get one. It was like a situation comedy. This is why it’s weird when a guy like Spike attacks me. He don’t realize that he’s around because of the “Let’s get us one, too” attitude. Spike is gonna be a great director one day. He has the potential. His problem is that because he’s so vocal, his stuff is now going to be under heavy scrutiny. When they go after that brother, they’ll have so much fucking ammunition that as soon as he does something that people think is bullshit, they’re gonna go crazy on him. The thing people have to understand is that I’m aware of the power that I have as a filmmaker, as an actor and politically. But people seem to think that I’m operating without an agenda. But I have an agenda. I am also aware that change is something that has to happen gradually. Change is something that has to be done…quietly. It’s not about going in there and rocking the fucking boat. You can rock the boat, or you can sail smoothly to your next destination.
Why do you choose the smooth sailing?
Because of what happens to anybody who rocks the boat. Malcolm X. Muhammad Ali. Martin Luther King. [pauses] But don’t think I have no agenda.
What is your agenda?
That’s my business.
Why don’t you want to share it?
Let’s put it this way: You shouldn’t judge anybody until he’s finished doing what he’s doing. [bitterly] When they start throwing the dirt into my grave, then you can look back and say, “This motherfucker wasn’t about shit.” Judge a person by all of his accomplishments. You don’t know what I’ve got planned; you don’t know how much money I’ve given to what organizations and what I want to do, or what my over-all view is of what I have to do as a black man in this country. So don’t sit around and judge me. Don’t say, “Go now, Ed!” Fuck it, I’ll go when I’m ready to go! I’ll say something when I’m ready to say it!
My dream is just to have black artists appreciated as much as white artists.
Have you given away much money?
I’ve given money to all kinds of black foundations. But usually, when a person gives a big donation, it’s in the papers because it’s good PR. But I don’t give money to organizations for PR, I give money to organizations that I care about. And it’s nobody’s business.
Without revealing your agenda, what would you like to see happen, ideally, for blacks in Hollywood?
My dream is just to have black artists appreciated as much as white artists. I want us to be able to win Oscars, to do films about our people when we want to, to get films made, to do what we want to as artists. There shouldn’t just be Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor in movies. You can think of fifty white leading men. There are only ten brothers who are working consistently in leading roles: Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Danny Glover, Gregory Hines, Arsenio Hall, Spike Lee, Robert Townsend, Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker and, recently, Keenen Ivory Wayans. If you want to do black actresses, Whoopi Goldberg—that’s it.
Since you think change must be gradual, have you purposely soft-pedaled your artistic and political instincts? Some think you’ve chosen popular vehicles instead of challenging films. In other words, must the black experience be diluted to make it palatable or salable to America?
No, because the things I do aren’t just popular. A movie like Coming to America is a political movie, because it has an all-black cast and a black star. It shows black people in a positive light, and yet it’s a movie for everybody. But that’s as political as I’ll get.
Movie critic Armond White, of The City Sun, a black-owned New York weekly, disagrees. He said that film was an insult to the black heritage and self-image.
That guy, man, he’s fuckin’ lost. He likes those struggle pictures; movies that deal with the plight of the black man and “the system.” He likes Spike Lee and Tony Brown’s Journal. Have an open mind. I’m not a politician, and I don’t use the movie screen as a pulpit. I understand that I am in a very political position. I’m a black man and I can reach the masses. But it’s real easy to go [agitated], “More! More!” I’m not a radical. There’s always gonna be somebody on the top and somebody on the bottom. And it’s inevitable that the person on the bottom doesn’t think that the person on the top is doing it right, and if he were on top, he would do it another way.
Let’s look at blacks on TV. How do you feel about the criticism that The Cosby Show is unrealistic and unrepresentative of black America?
The Cosby Show is no more ridiculous than Father Knows Best. It’s not Joe Average America on either show. There are probably more than one or two families like the Huxtables, but sure, it’s not what the masses are like. Most white families weren’t like Father Knows Best. The Cosby Show is positive imagery, however much fantasy it contains. Most black families aren’t like Good Times, either. It just took us this long to have a show like Cosby’s and have it be successful.
What did you think of one of the first successful so-called black TV shows, Amos ‘n’ Andy?
As ridiculous as some of the episodes are, and they’re certainly not positive images, Amos ‘n’ Andy made me laugh because the guys who played Kingfish and Andy Brown were very funny people. But that’s progress. If that show had not been on, there could never have been another show afterward. As far as Bill Cosby goes, when it comes to making positive images for black people, here’s a guy who in the Sixties had a show about a black gym teacher. It was a very political show. It didn’t stay on very long, but that sucker was a steppingstone to other shit. Acceptance is the only thing. That’s what my movement is: acceptance.
Do you think there has been much advance in how blacks are portrayed sexually?
Cosby and his wife are always affectionate and there is always sexual innuendo about what they want to do. They’re always playing some jazz music and sneaking off upstairs. So there is some element of sexuality on The Cosby Show, and it’s very tastefully done. But certain things call for it and certain things don’t. There’s no sexuality in my Axel Foley movies. The one thing in 48 HRS. that I didn’t like was the relationship between Nick Nolte’s character and his girl: What does that have to do with the story? We’re chasing these bad guys, and every now and then, he stops and goes [in Nolte’s voice], “Honey, I’m sorry I can’t make dinner tonight, I’m chasing this killer.”
Is America still afraid of black men’s sexuality?
Well, you’ve heard about us and our dicks.
Heard but not verified.
Well, that’s good. I’d hate to think I was sitting here with a reporter who had seen a lot of dicks. [laughs]
In The Best of Eddie Murphy: Saturday Night Live video tape, it’s clear that you did a lot more black-oriented stuff then than people may now remember.
I was a nineteen-year-old kid. The only thing I had done was be black.
When you first got to Saturday Night Live, do you think they expected another Garrett Morris?
Absolutely. It was just tokenism. They just threw me in there to be the black guy on the show. They had no idea what was going to happen. I’d been on a year and they still didn’t realize anything was happening.
How about rating some of the Saturday Night Live alumni in their transitions to movies? Start with Chevy Chase.
Chevy did great. From that “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not” thing, he’s become a big movie star. He makes six, seven million dollars a picture.
How about Dan Aykroyd?
Danny was always more of a writer in the beginning. It was his nature. But he’s a star now, too.
How do you feel about some of his movie choices?
You can’t attack someone for his picture choices. A lot of people have done fucked-up movies. I’ve done them. You can’t tell from leading the script. I didn’t like the script for Beverly Hills Cop II. I liked the script for Golden Child. But who knows? Doctor Detroit might have been a wonderful script. Just fucking with you, Danny. [laughs]
How about Bill Murray?
He’s in great shape; he’s the one who most wanted to be a serious actor: Billy can go either way and do whatever he wants. All the flak he got for The Razor’s Edge is still no reason not to do serious shit. Bill’s a good actor. He’s the most versatile actor of us all.
How do you look back at your own Saturday Night Live experience?
When I left in 1984, I told every journalist that I hated the show. But in retrospect, it was the most fun I ever had. I loved working with Joe [Piscopo] and Tim [Kazurinsky]; I loved constantly being under the gun and having to write all the time. The criticism we got because we were “those bastards who came along after Belushi” gave us a tougher skin. Everybody said, “Hey, you the new guys on Saturday Night Live? Well, fuck you! Your show sucks!” And we were busting our asses up there, sixteen hours a day, writing this fucking comedy. When we finally overcame that, we did some good shows.
Do people still seem to think of you in terms of Saturday Night Live?
That seems like a real long time ago. When I watch those old tapes, it weirds me out. I’m like this kid. Sometimes I watch sketches and don’t remember doing them. I do remember going through a period when people would scream out characters from Saturday Night Live—Buckwheat or Mr. Robinson or Gumby—and it would really piss me off. I wouldn’t turn around. It bothered me, because I was Eddie, you know? Today, somebody will scream out something from Saturday Night Live, but my reaction is, “This motherfucker has a good memory.” The good thing about Saturday Night Live is that I got to do so many different things that no one can pin just one character on me. I’m Eddie Murphy now, no matter how you cut it.
Do you still work on characters and impressions?
I never worked on them. When I was a kid, I used to go into the basement and practice. But now I can just hear someone and tell if I can imitate him.
As a kid, did you practice in front of the mirror?
Yeah, I was crazy. I used to give shows in my basement and the edge of the carpet was the stage. I’d be Elvis and Al Green and Stevie Wonder and do all this shit for imaginary audiences.
Was that a regular after-school performance?
[Embarrassed] Actually, I cut a lot of school. I graduated two months late. I had to go to summer school every year from eighth grade to twelfth grade.
Were you popular in school?
Yeah. Even then, I was Eddie Murphy. I was voted most popular. I was like a little celebrity. I had already been on local cable, I was hot shit. In high school, I used to give assemblies. I did a show for the six grades over three days. My band played, and afterward, I did an hour of material about the school: impressions of teachers, students, hall monitors; there were routines about smoking marijuana behind the school, and getting caught by the truant officer, and cutting class, and detention, and gym. By the third day, people were sitting in the aisles. The truth is, I knew what I was put here to do. Until I was ten, I wanted to own a Mister Softee ice-cream truck. But after that, I knew I wanted to be in show business. [smiles] My parents have pictures of me with a fucking ventriloquist’s dummy. Arsenio has pictures of himself as “Arsenio the Magician,” wearing a top hat.
Why don’t you talk very often about your natural father?
My parents broke up when I was three and he died when I was eight. After the divorce, he and I used to go out on the weekends to movies, but I don’t have a really clear memory of him. People tell me that I walk like my father, hold my head like my father; but I don’t have a “Once my father did this” story.
Is there any truth to the suggestion that his death at the hands of a jealous lover in some way contributes to your well-known distrust of women?
Nah. I don’t trust anybody.
I’m not that crazy about those feminists. I respect them, but my preference is for one of those “Hello, dear” women.
What’s your biggest fear? What scares you the most?
[Long pause] I guess not being able to take care of my family. That means everybody in my family and my extended family. My biggest fear is not being able to be there for people who depend on me. Anything else I can deal with.
Do you have female friends?
No. [pauses] Everyone’s gonna read that and think, Oh, he’s an asshole; he doesn’t have any woman friends. Hey, if I want to play racquetball, I want to compete. I don’t want to hit the ball and hear [high, prissy voice] “Oh, wait a second. Let’s do that over. That doesn’t count.”
We mean friends in a more emotional sense.
You mean, is there a woman I just call up and hang out with, or go to the movies with, that I don’t have any romantic or physical interest in whatsoever? No.
How about somebody you were once involved with who is now your friend?
When it’s over, it’s over.
But not all of your relationships end badly, do they?
A lot of them end over something stupid or fucked up, and it’s over. Even if we just outgrow each other, shake hands and go to separate corners, I don’t see them anymore.
Would you like to have a female friend?
It would be good for me. It would give me some insight into a lot of things that I don’t understand and broaden my scope. I haven’t met this woman yet, but when I do, I won’t resist it. A friend is a hell of a thing to have. With my guy friends, we pretty much just talk about women and money and sports—and the system, politics. But as far as friends go, there’s nobody I talk to about more than surface stuff. I don’t discuss me with anybody.
Maybe you’ve done so a bit in this interview.
You think this is deep? This is surface stuff.
If this is surface stuff, what’s the deep Eddie Murphy?
Give us a look into the abyss.
You get that interview in five years.
Okay, then let’s talk about women. Just how do you feel about them?
I love women. I like the old-fashioned ones a little more. I’m not that crazy about those feminists. I respect them, but my preference is for one of those “Hello, dear” women. “Hello, dear. How was your day today?” That’s what I want.
What kind of pet names do you think you’d like her to call you? You don’t want her to stick with just “honey,” right?
She can call me Mr. Box Office. [laughs] “Hello, Mr. Box Office.”
You do have a nickname, though—Big Money.
Yeah, that’s stupid. Me and my buddy Clinton were joking around one day, doing those characters that we did in Coming to America, and we were pretending we were pimps. I told him his name was Sweetwater and he said mine was Big Money—and it stuck. That was ten years ago. Now I’m ashamed of it. When my friends go, “Hey, Money!” I say, “Shhh!”
What do your friends call you?
Yo, Ed. Hey, Ed. Eddie.
Who has to call you Mr. Murphy?
When someone calls me Mr. Murphy, I say, “Call me Eddie. Don’t call me Mr. Murphy or Mr. anything.” Women have never given me a nickname, either. My dick is crooked, and I thought I would get a nickname because of that. It’s almost like an R, though not quite as bent. I figured someone would call me Hook Dick. But women act like they never notice it.
You’re referring to the bend, not the dick itself, right?
You raised the subject; we’re just following up; How does it bend—to the left or to the right? It’s this way. [demonstrates by crooking his finger] It’s like if I’m lying down and she’s at the foot of the bed, it’s pointing right at her face. It’s different. I think it touches places—this is disgusting—that don’t usually get touched.
I’ve never done a lot of shit that entertainers do. I’ve only fucked outdoors once. I’m not a freak at all. I’m very straight.
Anatomically speaking, that would be the G spot.
A good hook shot to the G spot. [laughs] This is disgusting! What are we talking about?
Sex. And judging by some of the lyrics on your last album, So Happy [released in August 1989], this subject shouldn’t make you uncomfortable. In fact, you come off as a pretty wild guy. Some of the lyrics are bondage fantasies. For instance, the song “Love Moans” opens with a woman whispering, “I’m here for you, and I’ll follow all your rules.”
Yeah, that’s pretty nasty. [claps the beat and sings] “Would you do me in my car/ While I’m driving pretty fast?/ I’ve got to press my throttle down to keep up with your ass, baby.”
Is this stuff you do in real life?
Nah. I’m a prude, man. I’ve never fucked or had my dick sucked in a limousine; I’ve never fucked around in a car; I’ve never done a lot of shit that entertainers do. I’ve only fucked outdoors once. I’m not a freak at all. I’m very straight. People think I’m a lunatic—this wild, fucking-a-different-girl-every-night kind of guy. [pauses] I am probably the straightest person I know. Twenty-eight years old and never had a venereal disease. I had crabs once, from this bitch from Roosevelt [High School], when I was sixteen. Bitch. I had on a rubber, too, but that doesn’t stop the crabs. That’s my sexually-transmitted-disease experience. I’m such a prude. A rubber freak.
No wonder your lyric about doing it “under the trees” is so wistful.
I never did it under no tree, either. I’m too shy to fuck under a tree. And now I can’t, because I’ll fuck under a tree and a reporter will see me: “Eddie Murphy Seen Fucking Under a Tree.” “Murphy Lives Out His Lyrics.”
Do you write those lyrics because you want to do that stuff?
I don’t lake the labyrinthine approach to anything; it’s just straight forward, surface everything. There’s never a subliminal message or a double meaning. I’m not an intellectual by anyone’s standards. There’s just something sexy-sounding about fucking under a tree. I guess I will one day. Right now, I fuck only in my bedroom.
Suppose a woman said, “C’mon, Eddie, let’s go out under a tree.”
[Hesitates] I’m sure I need to see an analyst because of this shit, but…I’m attracted to conservative women who don’t look conservative. I like a woman who looks a little vampy. I’m attracted to a woman who can suck a dick but never sucked one before. [laughs] I’m attracted to a woman who’s receptive to what I want to do but doesn’t have a huge, long sexual résumé. I don’t like sluttish women, you know. So what’s happened to me is that usually I’m around very passive women, and they wouldn’t make a suggestion like that. I suppose if I’d heard that suggestion, I’d have done some things. The one time I did something outdoors, it was the woman’s suggestion. We were on a beach. But I’m fine right in my bedroom.
Perhaps if you didn’t have your guys living with you, you might feel less inhibited about running naked through the house and out onto the lawn.
Yeah, but if I wanted to, I could just tell them to get out because I want to freak with this girl. They’d understand. But the truth is that I don’t walk around my bedroom naked. I don’t sleep naked. I wear my drawers.
Boxers or Jockeys?
Jockeys. I can’t walk around naked, man; dick dangling all over the place. My dick’s gotta have support.
So the kind of woman who makes you comfortable is a whore in the bedroom and a lady in the parlor.
A whore for me, though. I don’t want someone who’s been a whore for everybody. I want somebody who’s willing to learn how to suck one great but never really did it before.
And you want to be the teacher.
Yeah, I guess. [laughs, embarrassed] Women have a tendency, I guess, to freeze up around me. I’ve walked into a room and looked at women and they’ll turn their heads and act like I don’t exist. Or when I get introduced to a woman, she won’t look me in the eye. And it’s the silly movie-star shit. If it was you, she’d look you in the eye and say, “Come fuck me under this tree.” Me, they just say, “Oh, hello, I didn’t know you were standing there.” I fuck up a lot with women. You know what my big problem with women is? A lot of them have heard wild shit about me: He does drugs; he treats women bad. And whenever I meet a woman, she comes on to me, like, “Well, I heard you do this and I heard you do that.” But they’re still there. They’ve heard all this horrible shit and they still come around. Which means they want to meet this guy who allegedly fucked his girls over and slapped this bitch and sniffs cocaine. And I’m nothing like that, so it doesn’t work out usually. [laughs, then in a woman’s voice] “I thought I was gonna get slapped in my face and pushed down the steps. I’m leavin’!”
Isn’t it hard to resist taking advantage of all the willing women fame can bring?
I went through a stage the second year of Saturday Night Live where I was trying to fuck every woman who could possibly be fucked. I tried a lot. I got a lot of cooperation. [smiles] But since I turned twenty-one years old, I haven’t jumped into bed just to fuck somebody.
What would it take to get that to happen?
Cure AIDS. No matter what I say, even if there’s a freak in me—and I’m not denying that—no one has brought that freak out yet; no one has made me say, “Fuck it, I’m gonna stick this anywhere I want it.”
As far as being a stand-up comedian goes, a lot of it has to do with truths, and a lot of what I said was truth. But you say things to get reactions
Do you have a preference for dark- or light-skinned women?
No. It makes no difference. I have an appreciation for any beauty.
Let’s go a bit deeper. Define love.
Love is respecting somebody and doing for somebody because you want to do for her, not because she expects it of you.
Can you love?
Oh, yeah. I don’t think I can be the first one to love, though; I think somebody has to show me that she really loves me before I let myself fall in love with her.
What does she have to do?
Just be honest with me for about five years.
Any other requirements?
Where do most women go wrong?
They’re not honest. They act a certain way because they think that if they do this, I’ll do that. They try to outthink me. That fucks relationships. I wonder, Why are they playing this game? Usually, it’s because they want to get some money. It always comes back to money. I tell you, man, I’m twenty-eight years old and I’ve never even woken up to breakfast being cooked by a girl. I’ve never even had some woman fucking wake up and make up the fucking bed!
You may be inundated with offers after this is published.
I’m gonna get a lot of “I think Eddie Murphy is an asshole” stuff after this is published.
Well, your anger is unmistakable.
I’m a realist, and I think that a person who’s an idealist would listen to me and say, “Oh, he’s an asshole.” I can imagine women getting offended at stuff that I’ve said. But this is the way I feel.
Do you ever see any women who act differently from what you describe?
I watch these fucking guys who work for me: Their girlfriends come around the fucking house, stay with them for a week and never fucking get up after dinner and clean off the table! I’ve never seen one of the girls in the kitchen helping out Helen [the cook]. Or “Do you need anything?” Never! They fucking lie around and fucking eat. I’ve seen girls go to my cook and say, “Helen, I’m going to be sleeping until four o’clock. Could you wake me up when dinner’s ready?” So I go, Wait a second! Those guys ain’t even Ed; it’s just women acting like that. The first time I ever saw a woman get up and start helping clean the table off was when a girl my big brother was seeing came around. My reaction was, “Oh, shit!” I’ve seen women digging the meat out of their teeth afterward and go to sleep. I don’t know, man. People are gonna read that and go, “Eddie, you and the guys are hanging around the wrong type of women.” So show me somebody.
Have you ever thought of setting an example?
Have I ever jumped up and picked the glasses oil the table? Me? No! I know women will read this and say, “Why can’t men clean the table off sometimes?” I was raised in one of those homes where women clean the table off, and if there’s something wrong with me, then fuck it. The women would clean off the table and the guy would take out the garbage. [smiles]
Do you have trouble meeting women?
Nah. But women aren’t real with me. For the most part, the show starts when they meet me.
Does that piss you off?
No, I’m used to it; I’m used to the show. I’ve accepted it, man. They’re gonna play games. I’ve trusted women and shouldn’t have. Turned out they were assholes, and I looked like a jerk.
So all that hostile stuff in Raw about women: You did mean it.
At the time. But I don’t regret anything I said. I was growing into someone else. Raw is like something I said that night. But that don’t make it me.
Nonetheless, you seemed to mean it—and the impression lasts a long time. Women will remember what you said.
But that don’t make it me. We’re talking about show business. If John Wayne says his name is Rooster Cogburn in a movie, it doesn’t mean it’s him. As far as being a stand-up comedian goes, a lot of it has to do with truths, and a lot of what I said was truth. But you say things to get reactions, and I got reactions to what I said. I agree with a lot of the stuff that I said, but I don’t think I’m as cold as I am in Raw.
Where do you meet women? I could be driving down the street and see somebody and pull over. I met my current girlfriend at an NAACP awards function. What attracted you to her?
She was fine. Has she proved that she’s honest?
Yeah, she’s a good girl.
Does she pick up the dishes?
She’s a good girl.
Do you love her?
Yeah. I have a great deal of respect for her as a woman. And if I ever fell out of love with her, like that man-woman shit, I’d always love her as a person. So I’d always take care of her; I’d always be friends with her.
What earned your respect?
She has yet to fuck around and dog me out.
Do you check up on her?
Honesty keeps coming up. Your girlfriends must feel as though they’re on trial.
Well, they are on trial. [laughs] Everybody’s on trial, though.
How would you feel if you were going out with a famous woman and she were watching to see what you were doing?
But I’d be watching her, too. And if you’re not doing anything wrong, you won’t mind being watched. If I’m traveling fifty-five miles an hour and the fucking cops drive by and turn around and start following me, I say, “Hey, watch me; I’m not breaking no fucking law.” I’m a watcher. It’s not something that I do consciously, but I watch little shit and I notice little shit. [announcer’s voice] “Is it true you see all and know all, Ed?” [laughs]
Your current girlfriend is also the mother of your new child. This is your first, right?
To my knowledge. [smiles]
How do you feel about it?
I’m excited about it; I’m happy about it.
Have you read Cosby’s book for some advice on fatherhood?
Fuck, no. Get the fuck outta here! Cliff Huxtable I am not.
But you’re a normal guy.
Cliff Huxtable’s not normal. I don’t think I’ll ever be in the kitchen with my son, going [Cosby’s voice], “Now we’re gonna eat our bacon-burger dawg.”
Are you ready for fatherhood?
Yeah, I’m ready. I think it’ll be cool. It all seems very natural. I think I’ll be a fun dad. I’d be nervous about it if that whole marriage thing were attached, but I’m still a single man, and I have a nice relationship with my girlfriend. I have a responsibility to this woman and to this child, but I’m still a single man; I’m still Ed; I’m still single.
Is she going to live here at Bubble Hill?
Was it a planned pregnancy?
[Laughs] That’s funny. No. She got pregnant, but she was sweet and cool. I said, “OK, you want to have a baby, we’ll have a baby.”
Have you gotten any other women pregnant?
Not very many, no.
Did any of them freak you out? Never when I was sure it was my child. What about Nicolle Rader, who served you with a paternity suit?
That was bullshit. It wasn’t my kid. What if it had been your kid?
I’d have taken care of the kid. But I’d have no responsibility to that woman. When the child got old enough to understand the relationship that I had with his mother, then I would start seeing him. But I wouldn’t be forced into a relationship with a woman just because I had a child with her. While we’re on the subject of personal problems with women, what about Michael Michele Williams and her sexual-harassment suit? She has charged that you demanded sex from her to keep her job. Do you want to clear that up?
It’s something silly, and it’s in litigation, and we shouldn’t even really talk about it. But that’s just a typical somebody-taking-a-shot-at-me kind of thing. I get sued a lot by people who just take shots. How much money do you think you’ve spent on spurious lawsuits, defending yourself?
Millions. Millions. Did you ever come on to this woman at all?
No. If I were trying to fuck her, I would do it before I gave her a job. Let’s explore the subject of marriage. You’ve often said you’ll never get married because you fear divorce. And you still value being single, as you’ve said.
I want somebody to tell me intelligently what I have to gain out of a marriage. And don’t tell me [fluttery] “Oh, partnership!” Listen: I am in business by myself and have been since April 3, 1961. I don’t need a partner. I need somebody I care about and whose company I enjoy. And I can have that without being married, without saying, “Hey, I own you and you own me,” because that’s what marriage is.
And we are selling a product here; it’s a fucking fantasy. Eddie Murphy is a product, just like Coca-Cola.
Yet a few years ago, you were engaged to Lisa Figueroa. What happened?
[Quietly] We outgrew each other, I guess.
The rumor was that Lisa started acting as if she were Eddie Murphy, wielding the power.
No, no. We just outgrew each other. We were both too young to be talking about marriage.
Have you ever been dumped by a woman?
Never. I had one girl who wouldn’t give me no play when I was in high school; another girl I liked I never came on to. But I’ve never had a girlfriend go, “Fuck you; it’s over.” [pauses] Ah! Yes, I did. Tamara Young, Andrew Young’s niece. She’s the girl my mother wanted me to marry. She’s the most sensible woman I’ve ever met in my life. ____
How does your mother feel about your fear of tying the knot?
As long as I’m happy, my mother’s happy. I won’t deprive her of grandchildren. [pauses] Look, what do I have to gain out of marriage? Nothing. But I have everything to lose. Divorce is a reality; it can happen. You fall out of love just as quickly as you can fall into love. Nobody gets married thinking about divorce. They say their vows, it’s a beautiful thing, they cry, feel wonderful. Then, one day, you meet some other fucking girl and, although you never thought it could happen, you wind up fucking around. Or one day, you roll over and you look at your wife, or she looks at you, and that spark ain’t there no more. That’s just a reality; that happens. And the people that doesn’t happen to should feel blessed. I just don’t want to risk having that shit happen and have to move out of Bubble Hill.
What happens when love ends?
I don’t know if it’s a curse or what, but as long as I don’t see a person or hear a person, I can wash the person out of my mind. The person never existed. Every now and then, something will trigger a memory, and for a hot minute, I freak out again. But otherwise, it’s very easy to forget about somebody, because there’s always a pretty girl around. So fuck depression.
Are you that way with people in general? Former employees?
Anybody who’s ever worked for me, once he leaves, he’s cut off. Because most of the people who left left for fucked-up reasons. Once you fuck me over, you never existed. Fuck you. I’ve had people who have been really good friends who left my organization and sued me and shit.
Wasn’t there a former employee who said he was going to write a book about you?
That guy ain’t writing no book. He can’t even spell. [laughs] What’s he gonna put in a book? He hasn’t worked with me since I was twenty-two. What’s he gonna write? “Eddie fucked some girl one night.” So what? Go ahead. Everybody fucks. There’s no one who doesn’t fuck. “Eddie’s fucking so-and-so!” “Michael’s fucking this person!” “Stallone fucked that person!” “Mike Tyson fucked this many women!” Man, everybody’s fucking. They read an article like that and then go get their dick sucked, so who gives a fuck?
You used to date Robin Givens, didn’t you?
When I was a kid, when we were young. I was eighteen or nineteen.
She must have been one woman who didn’t make the bed. Did you ever get any grief from Mike about that?
[Laughs] No. He knew that I used to go with her when he married her.
You advised him not to get married, though.
I said, “Be careful.” He said, “Man, I just wanta get that pussy!” I said, “Yeah, well, be careful.” The rest is history.
And this, of course, is case number one in your marriage-stoppers textbook.
Well, man! Listen to all that shit! Stallone had to give fucking thirty million dollars to his past two wives. That’s crazy. And Mike, I don’t know how much money he had to give Robin, but she just bought a house in L.A. that cost two million dollars. I don’t know how much they pay on Head of the Class, but shit, it ain’t that much.
Did you sleep with Stallone’s ex-wife Brigitte Nielsen? We ask because there’s a supposed feud between you and Stallone.
Hell, no. No. I didn’t even know that shit was going on, all those rumors. To this day, even though we went through it a couple of times—Stallone asked me and I explained—I guess in his heart of hearts, he’ll never know. For him, the question still remains, and that prevents us from being friends again.
You mean he just came right out and asked, “Did you fuck my wife?”
Yeah. Here’s what happened. We were real cool for a hot minute; I’d go up to his house; we’d talk on the phone a lot. And suddenly, it stopped. And I went to a party and a boy said, “Hey, man, did you see Stallone? He was just here.” I said, “No, where is he?” He said, “Stallone walked out when you walked into the party.” I thought, What the fuck is that about? Then someone told me about the rumor that I’d fucked Gitte. So I called Stallone and asked what the fuck was going on. After all, I’d put her in Beverly Hills Cop II as a favor to him. We were going to use somebody else. Anyway, I could never fuck somebody’s woman. I couldn’t fuck somebody’s girlfriend. And I would tell the person, “Hey, your woman wants me to fuck her; you should get rid of her.” That’s some old street shit. My honor is not going to let me do something like that. Stallone asked me about it; he’s a man; I understood. He said, “Did you fuck my wife?” And I said, “No.”
All those rumors, these stories—don’t they just help you sell your product?
Yeah. And we are selling a product here; it’s a fucking fantasy. Eddie Murphy is a product, just like Coca-Cola.
Are you advertising the real thing?
People look at Coming to America and they say, “Wait a second! I bet you his lifestyle is really like that. I betcha!” Remember, I called the girl Lisa. So it’s like, “Aha! He was engaged to a girl named Lisa. This is his life!” [pauses] No, it’s not! That’s not my life! “I want someone to love me for me!” That’s not it. I just make people go, “I know! I’ve connected.”
Let’s talk about the language you use in your shows, which a lot of people find offensive. Comics such as Andrew Dice Clay and Sam Kinison are wildly successful with much coarser material, and they’re criticized less. Did you open the door?
It’s interesting that they didn’t get persecuted the way I did, but I wasn’t the first person to be dirty. Richard [Pryor] was dirty before me, and Redd Foxx was dirty before him, and George Carlin was dirty, too. People have just realized that if something is funny, fuck whether or not it’s dirty. You’re an adult. To go to some club to sit and listen to somebody tell jokes and get offended if they say the word fuck makes no sense. If you don’t want to hear fuck, stay home and watch TV.
What about your gay bashing? Are you homophobic?
I have nothing against homosexuals. I think an orgasm is your thing, and you should fuck whoever the fuck you feel like fucking. Whoever makes you come the hardest, that’s who you should be with. And all those people who say you shouldn’t do that, fuck them, because they ain’t there making you come; it ain’t their fucking business. But I’ve heard nigger jokes and I don’t fucking go and march in a parade and say that somebody’s Negrophobic. In fact, the gay people I know are very funny. There was a gay writer on S.N.L. who was funny and nice. I was completely comfortable around him.
Let’s do some takes on your peers. Whatever comes to mind. Sam Kinison.
Funny, dirty. [smiles] I like a lot of his act; I don’t like the religion stuff. I’m a spiritual person. I’d feel welcome in any church, so I wouldn’t make jokes about anybody’s God.
Very funny. She used to do a joke where she says [nasal voice], “My friends tell me I have to be more feminine, I have to be more ladylike; but I just say, ‘Hey, suck my dick!’ “ When she said that, I was hooked.
Andrew Dice Clay.
I have a lot of respect for anybody who just comes out and does whatever he feels like doing. I have no respect for those comedians who are night-club-comic clones. You know: “The other day, my wife came in…” I hate that shit. Talk about whatever you feel like talking about. It’s the difference between a comedian and a comic, and I don’t like comics.
Arsenio makes you like him immediately. He’s got a real ingratiating smile, a very quick mind and he knows how to hit little nerves or obscure things. A lot of people have never seen his real stand-up, only the two minutes of his act that he does on some shitty-assed, stupid comedy show. But watch him for a half hour. He’s a bad motherfucker. And he knows how to work a stage better than anybody I know.
Better than you?
Is he a better stand-up comedian than me? Yes.
Where did you meet Arsenio?
In California, when I did 48 HRS. He was Keenen’s [Wayans] friend first.
What made the friendship work?
He’s a very straightforward brother. He’s funny and we have a lot in common—like comedy and a lust for women. We started hanging out because I was a fan. After a while, I noticed we were calling each other, and hanging more and more, and getting girls and going to the movies together. Now he’s my best friend.
Who’s better-looking? Who pulls the women when you go cruising?
[Incredulous] I’m infinitely better-looking than Arsenio. He has huge gums and these long, fucked-up fingers. Course, he’s always telling me I’m fucking ugly; he does jokes about my nose and shit, and my teeth being small. But trust me, Arsenio gets second choice all the time.
I haven’t seen Joe as much as I used to. We just went in different directions after Saturday Night Live. He got very heavily into weights. He’s got this young girlfriend and they’re in love, and he lifts lots of weights. Good for him.
Rate him as a comedian.
I don’t think even he considers himself a stand-up comic. He’s a comic actor who does impressions.
I always looked at Johnny Carson as a talk-show host, not a stand-up comic.
Very funny man. Very hip.
Why do you think Arsenio’s show has overtaken Letterman’s?
With Letterman, you might get the vibe that he’s kind of condescending. Arsenio is like, “Hey, everybody, let’s have fun, let’s have a good time.” You never get the feeling that Arsenio thinks he’s more intelligent than the person he’s talking to. If you had a choice, you might go with Arsenio’s party, because everybody’s welcome.
Very fast, and a good actor, too.
Very funny. But I wouldn’t like to watch a comic who was influenced by Jay Leno, because that would nauseate me. The original is very funny, but when people try to get on his vibe, it nauseates me.
He’s a great comedian and an underrated actor. He’s more of a storyteller than he is a comedian. I don’t think anyone can tell a story better than Cosby. I wanted to do a tour with Cosby and Pryor last year, but Cosby didn’t want to go.
Ultimately, it was like asking Richie Havens to do a show with Prince. Richie does some nice stuff, but he’s sitting on a stool with a guitar and Prince is jumping all over the stage and doing splits. As much as Cosby has talked about my comedy, and as much as he says he doesn’t think I’m a comedian, the fact is that I would have blown him off the stage in terms of energy and in terms of putting on a better show. He’s a fifty-year-old guy; he has more insight than I do and he may know how to manipulate the audience a little more and tell a story better. But when he puts on a sweater and I put on my leather pants, he gets fucked up. [laughs]
He’s the best ever. You talk about mixing body language with everything else: Richard is like a mime on stage. He can take inanimate objects and make them come alive. Things that aren’t there, he makes you see them; or he’ll become something that he’s talking about. There’s no one who’s ever brought the theatrics that Richard brings to his comedy. Anyone who tells you he’s into comedy and doesn’t think Richard is the best comedian who ever existed doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Pryor is better than anyone who ever picked up the microphone and started telling jokes. Nobody can fuck with him.
You’ve said he’s your biggest influence. How does he feel about that?
Influence isn’t like when you see somebody and go, “I’m gonna steal the way he walks or the way he phrases words.” It’s somebody impressing the shit out of you and you just adapting that to your own thing. I watch Richard, I listen to him say stuff, I watch the way he looks at things and the way he explains things, and I go, “God, there’s so much of this man in me.” Influences are interesting. Richard was influenced by Cosby early on. If you watch some of Richard’s routine, you’ll hear him go into a voice that sounds almost like Cosby. He does a routine where he goes [Pryor’s voice], “Snakes make you walk into trees. Snake!” It’s a Bill Cosby routine. Bill Cosby was influenced by Groucho Marx: the cigar, he never stands up straight on stage when he’s walking and he mumbles. You can draw a line from me to Richard, and from Richard to Bill, and from Bill to Groucho. [pauses] And I guess Groucho never thought it was gonna go from “Last night, I shot an elephant in my pajamas” to “Suck my dick!”
Me? I’m okay. The same thing with the movie shit: I’m okay. People like me and they come and see me.
Still painting yourself as the average, normal guy.
Is that the key to your success?
People see me on the screen and go, “You know, he seems like he’s a nice person, a fun person.” That’s one reason I got so much shit on my stand-up—I’m just average. Yet I’ve done these huge pictures. So I get shit for not being as good in my stand-up as I am in films, I guess. I don’t think I’m a bad stand-up comedian; it’s just one of the things that I do, and I’m not the best. But Raw was the biggest stand-up movie in history. So I don’t suck as a comedian. I’m the Sugar Ray Leonard of stand-up. People say he doesn’t deserve his title. Like him, I’ll retire, wait for someone else to come along, and I’ll go get my title back. [laughs] No time soon, though.
But since your life has been changed so much by success, how will you stay connected to the audience?
My life has changed aesthetically. I have a bigger house and a nicer car, but ultimately, I still have a house and I still have a car. My life as an entertainer is the business part of my life, just like a doctor doesn’t stop living when he becomes a surgeon. He still goes home and has problems with his kids, his wife, his neighbor, this asshole down the street, when he goes to the store. You always have something to draw a funny situation from.
It has been said that your comedy doesn’t play off white guilt like that of black comics before you; that you never had to establish your dignity, so you felt free to abandon it; that, in essence, you were never a “black” comic.
Yes, I was. I’m just not a very political person. When I’m on stage, when I’m on a movie screen, I’m having a good time, and I want everybody in my audience to have a good time. I’m not there to chastise my audience.
What wouldn’t you do for a joke?
I wouldn’t dress up like a girl.
White people used to own us, and they haven’t forgotten that yet. I know I haven’t forgotten it. I’m still angry about it.
No secret Milton Berle fantasies?
No, man, that dressing-up-like-a-woman shit is just not funny to me. When Arsenio did it in Coming to America, it was funny. They were trying to get me to do that shit, but I just can’t do it, man.
Do you think you’d feel comfortable at the Friars’ Club?
I don’t know if they’d be comfortable with me there. But a lot of those old guys are real funny. Like Buddy Hackett. You ever seen him live? Hysterical.
Are there any new comics you really like?
Damon Wayans. Really impressive. Everybody else is doing somebody else’s shit. “My wife” and “The other day” and “Ooo, these people!” That’s bullshit.
Let’s change the topic. Did you think Jesse Jackson could be president?
I felt strongly about his running for president, in terms of symbolism, but I knew that’s what it was. Even though he ran in 1988, there are still places in this country where a black can’t eat. I stayed at a house in Bel Air, in Los Angeles, and yet I couldn’t go onto the golf course right behind it. I’m supposed to be an upper-crust black person and I’m still subject to racism. So there’s no way you could have realistically thought that Jesse Jackson was gonna become president in 1988. There will come a time, though.
Do you think Jackson knew that?
Absolutely. First of all, black people make up only twelve percent of the population in the United States. How are you going to put a man in office? You’ve got to get the white vote, too. But it was beautiful because it took the ceiling off people’s thoughts in terms of what Jesse could achieve. Ultimately, what we have to do is be accepted as equals, and I really, honestly don’t feel that white people accept black people as equals. Racism is covert now; they do it behind closed doors. In the open, everything is cool, but inside, it’s still “Ah, the fucking niggers.” It’s natural for white people to feel that way. White people used to own us, and they haven’t forgotten that yet. I know I haven’t forgotten it. I’m still angry about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had nights when you sat around and talked about niggers. All white people have, and do.
That’s a cynical assumption. How would you feel if blacks were accused of the reverse?
Yeah, but our anger is a reactive anger. We never stripped you of your culture or fucked your daughters.
What about the Jews? There has been a lot of controversy lately about Jewish-black relations.
Yeah, but I’m talking black-white. I’m talking what happened to blacks in this country. Jewish people came here of their own free will.
If you can call trying to escape the gas ovens free will.
I sympathize with the victims of the Holocaust. It was a horrible thing. But not as horrible as what happened to black people. You’re talking about a people who were raped of their culture. You will never meet a Jewish person named Eddie Murphy. You will never meet a Jewish person named John Smith. Whites took our culture, they took our language, they took our religion. The Jews have overcome what happened in the Holocaust, outside of looking at the films and still being mad about it. As a people, they have power, they have culture, they have unity, they have money. But black people are still bruised by the horrible things that happened to them. I’m aware of it, and it makes me angry.
Is this how you would define the black experience?
You watch those old civil rights movies that show black people getting sprayed down with water hoses. People lose sight of the fact that it was just twenty-five years ago, man. Sicking dogs on us just because we wanted to eat in a restaurant, or because we were marching and singing “We Shall Overcome.” And a lot of those people who sprayed those water hoses are still alive, have children and have instilled the same beliefs in them.
What do you think white America has to do for a better future?
My people are the most forgiving people on the face of the earth. To be here in this country and to be subjected to as much shit as we’ve been subjected to, and to not have had a black revolution!… All we want is to be accepted as your equals. We’re not even saying, “Hey, we want revenge; we gonna fuck you motherfuckers up.” We’re saying, “Hey, listen. That shit happened and we’re hurt; you lucked us over and you fucked up, but we’re here and treat us like your equals.” That’s what we’re saying. Racism is rooted in ignorance, and the more sophisticated a society becomes, the fewer racists we’ll have. When you integrate with other cultures, racism gets washed away.
What about the future of the world? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
I know I’ll leave some good movies to watch. [laughs] I’m trying to keep this on the surface.
As you’ve said all along. Yet you’ve dipped a little deeper than you thought you would.
The biggest statement I can make is this: What I’ve achieved is accessible to any other man, black or white.
Theoretically but highly unlikely.
There’s just not that much room at the top of the pyramid.
Did you ever see the episode of Star Trek in which they beamed down on this planet and were forced to go to the gun fight at the O.K. Corral? Spock said, “If you believe the bullets are real, they’ll kill you!” Well, that shit is true. Sometimes you hear stories about a guy who gets shot in the head. Is he dead? Nah, he’s alive, the bullet bounced off his forehead. And then you hear stories about people who only got stabbed in the arm—and bled to death. You the when you accept death. And you succeed when you accept success, completely and totally. When you go “I am going to succeed” and you don’t have one scintilla of doubt. Once you put some element of doubt in, that’s when you can fail. Success is pure faith in yourself and God. Cher said this before: There’s no dress rehearsal for life. You’ve got one life. I say, you go for what you want.
When did you figure that out?
When I was fifteen years old. I was always gonna be a plumber, man—and I got nothing against plumbers—but it’s real easy to start doing shit just out of obligation. Nobody sets out to be a mailman, a milkman or a plumber. That’s something you wind up doing. And a lot of those people are content with their lives.
Are you happy?
[Restless] Well, there’s still things I want to do with my life. I think any man who’s twenty-eight years old and is happy is a fool. You build toward perfection. So right now I’m…content.
What will it take to get happy?
It ain’t money—I got that in the bank. It’s not something that I’ll find with somebody else. But something will happen in my life; maybe not even on stage. Maybe I’ll do something to touch someone else’s life and feel it’s the ultimate for me as a person, the best I’m ever gonna be. It could have something to do with a child I’ll produce. It’s when I feel I’ve done what I was put here to do. When I reach my goal, I won’t care about what others think. I’ll just bask in the feeling. What it’s gonna take for me is universal acceptance: “OK, he’s an artist.” Right now, I’m at that stage of trying to prove I’m an artist. I’m faced with, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but that last thing you did sucked.” So when I can believe what I’ve done is perfect, and fuck you, then I can relax. So far, I don’t believe I’ve done anything perfect, only pretty good. But God works in mysterious ways.
And it won’t matter what the public thinks?
Right, because it’s not the public that inspires an artist to create. An artist feels the need to create even if there is no public. If there were no one on the planet, I’d still do funny things, I’d just be laughing by myself.
From the February 1990 Playboy.